Fifteen provinces considered “high-risk” areas for election violence will get special attention from the Philippine National Police three months before the start of the campaign for the May 2013 midterm elections.
The 15 provinces are traditional hot spots during elections.
Interior Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II told reporters on Friday that the 15 provinces would get priority in the security preparations for next year’s elections, as they posed the biggest problems, including private armed groups, loose firearms, threat groups, criminal groups and intense political rivalry.
The 15 high-risk provinces are Abra, Pangasinan, Ilocos Sur, La Union, Cagayan, Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, Batangas, Cavite, Masbate, Samar, Misamis Occidental, Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur and Basilan.
“We now start operations in these 15 provinces to address the risk of [election] violence,” Roxas said in a news conference to launch the Task Force Safe and Fair Elections (SAFE) 2013.
The national election security task force used to be called Task Force HOPE, for Honest Orderly and Peaceful Elections.
With Roxas at the news conference held at PNP general headquarters in Camp Crame were outgoing PNP chief, Director General Nicanor Bartolome, and the incoming PNP chief, Deputy Director General Alan Purisima, who is also the overall task group commander.
In Maguindanao, where 58 people, including 32 journalists, were brutally killed on Nov. 23, 2009, in the worst election-related violence in the country, the PNP has identified four private armed groups. There are about 4,000 loose firearms in the province, the PNP said.
The PNP has reported 27 election-related incidents so far, with six public officials killed.
Bartolome said PNP teams would round up firearms whose licenses had expired. Carrying search warrants, the teams will go to the last known addresses of the owners of those firearms, Bartolome said.
The PNP said the licenses of 552,338 firearms had not been renewed, making them loose firearms.
The PNP said at least 25,065 firearms, mostly handguns, were in use but never registered.
When asked if the government would go after politicians with private armies, Roxas said the government could not do that, as it did not have proof to link politicians to private armies.
Instead, the government will go after the armed groups to deprive politicians of the services of such groups, Roxas said.
“What can they (the politicians) do if there are no more armed groups?” Roxas said.
The campaign for national offices will start on Feb. 12, 2013, while the campaign for local posts will begin on March 29, 2013.